Struggling To Maintain Funding, NASA Chief Technologist Resigns

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WASHINGTON — NASA Chief Technologist Robert Braun, whose programs have struggled to find budgetary traction, will resign from the agency in October.

“While professionally fulfilling, my service has been exceedingly difficult for my family and me,” Braun wrote in a Sept. 1 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This letter is to respectfully inform you of my desire to return to the Georgia Institute of Technology in October 2011.”

Braun, who resides in Atlanta and commuted each Monday to NASA headquarters here, was appointed chief technologist in February 2010. Besides Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology, previous employers have included NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Much of his work for NASA has been focused on planetary science, specifically robotic missions to Mars.

On Aug. 30, Joseph Parrish was named deputy chief technologist of NASA. Parrish now will take over as acting chief technologist while the agency searches for someone to fill the post on a permanent basis, NASA spokesman David Steitz told Space News Sept. 6.

Parrish joined the Office of the Chief Technologist in January from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Michael Gazarik, who preceded Parrish as deputy chief technologist, now will become director of NASA’s Space Technology Program within the Office of the Chief Technologist, NASA said in a Sept. 6 press release.

Braun was working for NASA under an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement — agreements that allow for the temporary transfer of personnel to the federal government from state and local governments, or from a university, as was the case with Braun.

Braun’s two-year transfer was set to expire in February.

He was NASA’s first chief technologist in a decade. Sam Venneri, a career civil servant who worked for former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, preceded Braun in the post.

Braun’s appointment coincided with an effort by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to sharpen NASA’s focus on advanced technology development as an enabler for future deep-space exploration. But that effort has been caught in the middle of a fight between the Obama administration and Congress over the future direction of NASA’s human spaceflight program. 

The administration has asked that advanced technology projects from across the agency be funded in 2012 from a single spending account, Space Technology, to be overseen by the chief technologist’s office. NASA requested $1.02 billion for the program next year, but the House version of the agency’s spending bill for 2012 provides only $375 million.

The Senate has yet to mark up its version of the appropriations bill that funds NASA.

NASA’s Space Technology budget, administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist, is currently the account from which the agency funds its share of the congressionally mandated Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Program initiatives.

Those programs require that certain federal agencies, including NASA, reserve a percentage of their research budgets for grants to and public-private partnership with small businesses.

 

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